Friday, August 8, 2003

Tristate prepares for worst

Emergency responders learn from exercise

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Emergency management officials say they are better prepared now for a terrorist strike in Greater Cincinnati than at any time since the Sept. 11 attacks nearly two years ago.

They say an anti-terrorism exercise Thursday in Cincinnati shows just how far they have come since those early, confused days following the attacks in New York and Washington.

In the past year, they say, regional officials have improved communications and streamlined their operations so they can respond better and faster.

"It's amazing how far we've come," said Ed Dadosky, the district fire chief in Cincinnati who heads the department's weapons-of-mass-destruction response planning unit. "We are ahead of where we were last year."

Dadosky and other planners have said Greater Cincinnati - like many other regions across the country - still needs to expand training programs and buy more equipment to prepare for a worst-case scenario.

But Dadosky said exercises such as the one conducted Thursday also are important because they teach officials from dozens of different agencies and communities to work together during a crisis.

"People have a better idea of what we'll have to do if we ever fall victim to this kind of attack," Dadosky said.

The session was a "tabletop exercise" in which nearly 400 emergency management officials from Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky were presented with an attack scenario requiring an immediate response.

In the scenario, terrorists managed to infect hundreds of amusement park customers with the Ebola virus, which causes severe flu-like symptoms, internal bleeding and, in many cases, death.

The scenario begins with dozens of people rushing to hospitals suffering from a mysterious ailment. As the crisis worsened, participants in the exercise were asked to work together to come up with an effective response.

Hospitals had to manage hundreds of patients, the FBI and disease specialists had to track down the source of the infection, and public health officials had to deal with panicked citizens.

"I think it's important for everybody in public service to understand their role in an incident like this," said Hamilton County Administrator David Krings.

The goal, he said, is to bring together all the players now so they can work through their differences and misunderstandings during a practice, rather than during a crisis.

The exercise was sponsored by the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority, which obtained a $50,000 grant for the program from the Federal Transit Administration.


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